Chapter Seventeen – Comes The Revolution (cont.)
All through 1960, the players’ association, the PFA continued demanding a completely new contract for its members. It did its work with care, making each step legally and constitutionally, never stepping out of line. At one point, the League committee announced that it saw no reason to continue talks with the players. The players, nimbly led by Jimmy Hill, promptly reported an ‘industrial dispute’ to the Ministry of Labour, in January 1960. All through the spring and summer of that year, meetings were held with representatives of both sides and with Mr Tom Claro, Ministry of Labour conciliation officer. In November there was a meeting of all club representatives at Football League headquarters to consider a variety of proposals to offer more incentives to the players – a wage increase, bonus increases, appearance money payments and a general variety of improvements suggested by various clubs. In a meeting which I have been told ended in confusion, all were rejected out of hand. The answer of the players came from their meetings in London, Manchester and Birmingham and the entire country was amazed at the strength of their views on what they considered two basic points – the abolition of the maximum wage and the retain-and-transfer clause in the contract. They said they would go to any lengths to force the issue and win the fight and they gave full powers to their representatives to make this clear to the clubs. On 9 December, the club chairmen met and rejected further proposals from the players. On 13, 14 and 15 December, further regional meetings were held by the players and they resolved to give the necessary one month’s strike notice to the clubs. This meant that if no solution was forthcoming, all professional footballers would strike on 21 January. The clubs announced that they were unworried by this and that they would field amateur teams and carry on the fixture list if necessary in that way. Since they had made a profitable deal with the football pools companies which was netting them some £250,000 for the season, this seemed not only necessary but essential, yet whether or not the public would be interested in paying money to see such matches was another, and a very moot, point. What was also not clear was whether or not amateur players, many of them members of other unions, would be prepared to be ‘blacklegs’.
At this time the public became really alarmed at the seriousness of the issue, at the determination of the players and at the possibility of a close-down of the old, much-loved, national game. For years the players had considered their profession as something more than just work. The thought of strike action was really abhorrent to them but since the clubs had either not realised the players’ feeling about the game, or had chosen to ignore it, and take advantage of it, the players had reached a stage in the dispute when their patience was exhausted.
It is true to say that public sympathy was almost entirely with the players. Much of this was due to the nature of their cause, and to sensible public relations which were always carefully handled by Jimmy Hill. But even more important were two other things – the emergence of Tottenham Hotspur in their ‘double’ season as a really outstanding team, and the success of the England national team. I shall return to these points. On 21 December at the Ministry of Labour, a plan was drawn up which seemed acceptable to both sides. There was a Christmas truce. The club chairmen meeting on 9 January made a final offer. They said they were prepared to end the maximum wage but to make no concession to the retain-and-transfer clause in the contract. Again regional meetings of the players rejected this. They felt a player should be free when he had completed his contract, whereas the existing clause tied him to the club until they were good and ready to transfer him. And during that time they need pay him only a minimum wage as a retainer. On 18 January at the Ministry of Labour, three days before the strike would have been effective, agreement was finally reached in the presence of the Minister of Labour, John Hare. The maximum wage was abolished. Players would be free to sign longer contracts and through a rather involved mechanism would be able to leave their clubs if they wished, at most three months after the expiry of these contracts.
It's All In The Game was published by Arthur Baker Limited.
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